By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—No one’s as big a fan of filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “13th”) than those who’ve worked with her. Just ask Oprah Winfrey, who not only has produced some of the filmmaker’s projects as she did on “Selma” and the TV series “Queen Sugar,” she also sometimes appears in them, as she does in the soon to be released “A Wrinkle in Time.”
“It fills my heart every time I think about Ava, with her dreads and her sneakers and these big cranes and all of these men running around taking direction from her,” says Winfrey, who plays a giant magic character named Mrs. Which in the children’s fantasy film. “To see her be the master of that, to orchestrate all of that was powerful and inspiring.”
Adds Reese Witherspoon, who plays another magical being called Mrs. Whatsit in the film, “It’s very flattering to be chosen to be part of Ava’s movies because she doesn’t just make a movie, she makes an experience for everyone. She cares about what happens in front of the camera and she cares about what happens behind the camera, and everybody feels like they are important.”
For Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover” films, “Baskets”), who plays a character called the Happy Medium in the film, getting a chance to work on a children’s movie made by an acclaimed director whom he already admired from her previous work, was reward enough.
“When you’re a stand-up comic, you kind of have sometimes, not a chip on your shoulder, but you don’t feel like—that’s where I come from, and so to be involved in such a big, big, big movie like this. I feel real proud.”
During a press conference, DuVernay, who was born and raised in Long Beach, Calif., spoke about making the live-action Disney film, which is based on the classic children’s book by Madeleine L’Engle. The fantasy adventure centers on a young girl who is bullied at school because her scientist father disappeared four years previous. She and her younger adoptive brother go on an adventure with three mysterious women, who say they can take her to the other side of the universe to find him. In addition to Winfrey, Witherspoon and Galifianakis, the film stars “Star Trek’s” Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mindy Kaling, Michael Pena, Storm Reid, Andre Holland, Levi Miller and Deric McCabe.
Q: For whom did you make this film?
DuVernay: This is a film for young people and people who are young at heart—and for me. I have to ask myself, “Do I still have a heart,” first of all, and “Is there an inner child still in me? Did I tap into the 11, 12 or 13-year-old in me, and find that light that I used to have, that dreamer?” I got to do that for two years. I got to really get in touch with all that I thought I would be when I was young and really tap into that and try to create some magic with this great group of people.
Q: Do you feel like you accomplished what you set out to do?
DuVernay: I feel like I tried and gave everything I had to a film again. If that’s the “it,” then yes. There’s love in every frame of this movie and there’s love in every frame of everything that I do. I don’t have children. I won’t have children, by choice. These films are my children; they’re what I leave behind. They have my name on them (and) my blood in them. I feel I did that. From there, you offer it up to the world and you hope that (audiences) can see our intention.
This was an extraordinary experience for me. It’s emotional to sit here with (the cast) because we really held hands on this and became a family, trying to just give a little bit of sweetness to the world in these dark times. It’s a tough time right now. This film really saved me in a lot of ways from kind of going down dark holes and kept me in a really light-filled place so I’m grateful for the past few years working on “A Wrinkle in Time.”
Q: Is this the right film for young people conflicted over what’s happening in the country and the world?
DuVernay: Yeah, they’re living in a chaotic time. We’re living in a chaotic time as adults. Imagine if you’ve only been on the earth for 10, 11 or 12 years—the tension that you feel. To be able to just give a little breather and to say who you are is enough, and this is how you’re going to make it through by finding something in yourself that guides you. We all have that little voice inside of us, and a lot of times we don’t listen to it. A friend of mine had a tremendous episode of peer pressure of gigantic proportions that I’d never experienced or seen just a couple of weeks ago when the whole country—well, a lot of the country—was saying, “You should run for president.” She said, “Y’all, the voice inside of me says I am not your president. I can do good in the world in a different way, but a tremendous amount. Like, I probably would’ve even said, if everybody thinks I should, I’m going to give it a try.” That’s what we need more to tap into—your own voice. She’s the strongest I’ve ever met.
Q: The Happy Medium is female in the book but is played in your film by comedian Zach Galifianakis. Why the gender switch?
DuVernay: With a man bun. He demanded to wear a man bun. He was the first person who said this (movie is) something for boys too. Boys need to be able to see themselves be vulnerable and be able to follow a girl and just not always have to be macho.